A trio of Nationals veterans - third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, first baseman Chad Tracy and shortstop Ian Desmond - reacted for the first time to the news that hitting coach Rick Eckstein was relieved of his duties and replaced by the Nationals roving hitting instructor Rick Schu.
Zimmerman reacted to Eckstein’s release, saying it was not Eckstein’s fault for the team’s paltry hitting numbers and that the player has to take the responsibility for his hitting.
“It is tough,” Zimmerman said. “It is part of the professional business. When things don’t happen on the field, someone has to (take the fall). Obviously things like this have to happen. But to be honest with you, it is the players’ fault.
“We are not the ones that have been hitting, we are not the ones that have been scoring runs. When it comes down to it, no hitting coach, pitching coach or whoever can do anything about this but us.”
“That is what happens in every sport,” Zimmerman said. “Not ever, but very rarely do players get punished more than coaches do. I don’t know really why that happens, but that is just kind of how it is and the business that we are in.”
Zimmerman does not believe a new voice in hitting is going to change his approach.
“I have hit the same way since I was 10 years old,” Zimmerman said. “When you get to this level, it is your job to hit. We get paid a lot of money to hit and do our job. When we don’t do our job, it is nobody’s fault but our own.
“The hitting coach, the pitching coach, whatever coach at this level is here to give you information which our guy did, and unfortunately it didn’t work out for us.”
But this change could shake up the clubhouse a bit, and Schu has a ton of experience working with Bryce Harper (2010-2011), Anthony Rendon, Roger Bernadina, Steve Lombardozzi and Scott Hairston (Arizona, 2004-2005) over the years.
Zimmerman also appreciated what Eckstein brought to the table and his work ethic in the batting cage during batting practice and behind the scenes.
“He was always there,” Zimmerman said. “He worked hard. That is really all you can ask for. When things like this happen, it is kind of part of the business, and unfortunately it happens a couple times each year.”
Tracy echoed Zimmerman in pointing the blame to the players who have to pick themselves up and out of this hitting quagmire.
“A lot of us feel like we had some responsibility in him being let go,” Tracy said. “There’s nobody on this coaching staff that works harder than Rick Eckstein. It’s unfortunate just because it’s not his fault. I think he’s a great guy, first of all.
“He’ll land on his feet somewhere. There’s no doubt about that. And I really enjoyed having him around here the last two years.”
Desmond said Eckstein’s philosophy was to work with the player and find out what makes him comfortable in his routine and stick with it.
“Every guy in here has a different routine, has a different mental approach to the game, has a different mental approach to hitting,” Desmond explained. “I can really only speak for myself. For me personally, as you guys know, I try to keep it very simple. See the ball, hit the ball. Hits will come. That is pretty much it.
“My goal was to keep things as basic as possible. Rick (Eckstein) did a great job of letting me do that. I was one of those guys, I had a Silver Slugger while Rick was here. Me and him worked well together in that aspect.”
Desmond was asked if he saw a similarity in the way Johnson managed compared to the way Eckstein taught hitting.
“I think one of the best qualities of Rick was he was a team player, a team guy,” Desmond said. “If I said, ‘Hey, Rick I want to go hit out in the rain, thunder storming, lightning,’ he would do it. I think that is the same way Davey is. Davey is going to do whatever he has to do to make you succeed.
“He believes in you, he sticks by you. And If you say that this is going to work for you, he believes you. I think Davey and Rick share that quality. They want the best out of each and every player in here.”